Back for an encore this week is one of the breakout Indie critical successes of last year, Punks Not Dead, set right here in dear old Blighty – and even better, set in the North of England too – from writer David Barnett and artist Martin Simmonds and published by Black Crown. Having struck up a friendship with these two fellas, it was only right that I used that to my advantage and get them to answer a few inane questions, littered with Sex Pistol and The Clash song titles to boot (in italics), from me ahead of this week’s comic dropping. Take it away lads, and thanks for your time and those tongue-in-cheek responses too!
Olly MacNamee: Hiya guys. Congratulations on the success of Punks Nor Dead (PND), Season 1. Did you ever expect such positive critical reaction to this indie hit? It must have been a thrill when you got the call up that this was going to be renewed, right?
David Barnett: The first series, Teenage Kicks, was my first ever comics work, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect, reaction-wise. The fact that we got so many great reviews, and so much positive reader feedback, was brilliant. So many people seemed to instantly “get” what we were doing, and the fact that it was set in Britain — and outside London as well, for the main part — didn’t seem to bother US audiences at all, which was gratifying. I’d come to learn quite a bit about how the comics industry worked while writing the first arc, so for IDW to commission a second series was amazing. We’re the first Black Crown book to get another arc and that’s testimony to all the hard work Shelly and the team have put in, and the belief in this series and its characters.
Martin Simmonds: Thanks, Olly. Yeah, we’re so pleased to be able to continue the story! It’s great to spend more time with these characters, and see where situations take them.
OM: It’s a very British flavoured comic isn’t it? The dialect of the characters, the focus on the north of England, and even some of the cultural references too. Y’now, the mention of Scum, for one. Were you ever worried you’d be alienating a lot of your readers?
DB: Well, those American Cultural Imperialist Devils have been forcing their lifestyles on us poor Brits via their comics, TV and movies for decades. I mean, I didn’t even know what a pizza looked like until I read an issue of Marvel Two-In-One. I spent my childhood wondering what the hell a pretzel was, what was a Yonkers, and why did Americans keep their fannies in the wrong place. So this is payback time. But, no, as I said, readers jumped on board with us. I think the way was well and truly paved with the various waves of the British Invasion of US comics in the 1980s and 1990s.
MS: The response to PND from US comic fans has been fantastic, so PND’s British flavour hasn’t been a problem at all. If the book’s well crafted, then I would think it should be easy for the reader to become immersed in the story, and carried along with the characters. I like to think we’ve achieved that.
OM: We left Fergie, at the end of the last story-arc, on the run to London and the cops, Dorthy Culpepper and others, all gunning for him. What can we expect from this new chapter, Punks Not Dead: London Calling in Fergie’s life? I mean, this is no holiday in the sun for him, right?
MS: There’s a lot packed into these five issues, and Fergie and Sid go through a lot on their search for answers. All your PND favourites show their faces, plus a few new ones, too.
DB: I see what you did there. London Calling basically picks up the day after Teenage Kicks finished, which means, yes, Fergie and Sid are still on everybody’s hit list and are trying to navigate hiding out in London while attempting to find the father Fergie has never met, in the hope he can provide answers to a few questions, such as why are Fergie and Sid stuck together? What are these weird paranormal abilities Fergie is manifesting? Where did Fergie’s mum learn to swing a golf club like that?
OM: When writing the initial run, David, did you become aware of what a standout character Dorothy Culpepper would be in the book? She’s certainly hard to forget and clearly a very important character in this comic and in Fergie’s life too.
DB: I had an idea that Dorothy was going to be popular because she was so much fun to write. But I thought more people might be offended by her. I think she might have mellowed just a tiny bit over the course of the first arc and into the second one — she’s still very caustic and abrasive, but she’s not actually offensive because she’s horrible. She just likes trolling people for her own amusement, I think. But if it came down to it, I reckon you’d want Dorothy on your side.
OM: How much of an input did you have, Martin, in the final design of Dorothy and her thoroughly modish mode?
MS: The design for Dorothy fell into place pretty easily, to be honest. David described her in the first script as a bit like Bette Davis’s Baby Jane Hudson, and Shelly (Bond) came up with the idea of dressing her in Mod clobber. Shelly has a much better grasp of Sixties fashion than me, so she bombarded me with a load of retro fashion pictures, and Dorothy developed from there.
Dorothy’s lived a pretty colourful life, so I wanted her to look like she’s been through the wringer a bit, like a chain-smoking walnut in a wig. In my mind, she’s equal parts Emma Peel, Dot Cotton, and Keith Richards, plus some inspiration from an old work colleague of mine who was a bit of an old battle axe!
Dorothy certainly has a bit of the psycho biddy look about her, and she can swear for England, but she’s precisely the type of person we need to protect the planet from supernatural threats!
OM: And, how far have you plotted this saga? It’s certainly grow in scope, what with the revelation that the demon Beleth is alive and kicking*? It feels like the whole series has suddenly been turned up to eleven and the threats have been equally ramped up as a result.
DB: That’s not even a punk song, Olly. Must try harder. Teenage Kicks was almost a bit of a slow-burner, Fergie and Sid getting to know each other, Fergie coming to terms with what’s happening to him. London Calling is like, okay, kid, take off those training wheels because now things are going to get well lairy, and fast. This arc will bring to a close what we started in Teenage Kicks, but open up a whole new lot of questions and situations. And whether we get to continue depends on how much people like the book, as ever. So run, don’t walk, down to your local comic shop and buy, buy, buy!
OM: On the subject of the art, Martin, how much freedom are you given on the composition of the pages? You seem to be having a (white) riot working on this book?
MS: David sends me the script with a panel layout, and that’s our starter for 10. From there I’ll play around with the compositions, changing it up wherever I think it’s needed. At the stage where I’m planning out the layouts, I’m given total freedom to see where I can take things. It’s an organic process, and between me, David, and Shelly, we then move things around until we’re happy we’ve got something dynamic and interesting.
OM: Congratulations, also, David on new Black Crown series, Eve Stranger. What can you tell us about this new book you’re working on with Phillip Bond? That must be quite a thrill to be working with Bond and, once again, with Black Crown.
DB: Eve Stranger is a completely different beast to Punks Not Dead, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s about an amnesiac secret agent who has to perform the missions no-one else can – or die trying. Working with Philip Bond is such an honour. His pages (coloured by Eva de la Cruz) are absolutely gobsmacking. Anyone who’s ever been a fan of Philip’s work is going to adore this. Plus, we have a back-up strip that’s very different in tone, and features Eve — or a version of her — drawn by the marvellous Liz Prince. It’s a very funky package all round.
[*okay, okay, one from Simple Minds back catalogue too!]